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Peñitas approves $2.9 million budget

The Peñitas City Council approved a new $2.9 million budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year following a public hearing on Sept. 7 at the Peñitas Public Library. Compared to last year’s budget of $2.7 million, this is an increase of nearly 7 percent.

The council also authorized the city manager to go out for proposals for a new $4.2 million city hall. The new facility will be a design-build project.

City of Penitas logoAfter the hearing was adjourned, Peñitas’ City Manager, Omar Romero stated that the city’s top priorities are “public safety and the expansion of development” through municipal annexation of land.

“It’s been three years since the city actually went through an annexation. We’ve banked the amount of acreage we can grow every year for those three years,” Romero said.  

In a follow-up telephone interview, Romero explained that the city is permitted to annex a certain number of acres each year, and since the city has not annexed any land over the past three years, they can now annex as much as 1700 acres.

He said negotiations with other local municipalities are ongoing to ascertain what’s going to be the best way for the city to proceed with annexation plans.

Land development presents significant economic opportunities for Peñitas, however, Romero cautioned, “If we go through a large growth spurt of development of homes and retail, we’ll run out of land very quickly.”

“Coming from McAllen west, you don’t see open land until you hit Peñitas. We’re the next available open land off the highway for people to build on,” he added.  

According to a 2015 census, Peñitas has a population of about 4,715 residents, and has a poverty rate of 28.3 percent; Hidalgo County, as a whole, is at 33.5 percent.

Programs with federal agencies have played a vital role in this regard, particularly with bolstering infrastructure. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is currently working with the city to expand its sewer system to serve areas without sewage. In addition, nearly $600,000 of Community Development Block Grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will be invested into road infrastructure and additional street lights in an under-resourced neighborhood called Tierra Blanca in West Peñitas.

“The city is in a unique position where it’s about to go through a period of expansion,” Romero explains. “And when you go through a period of expansion, you have to think about infrastructure and growth. On top of that you have to think about additional police officers and additional staff” to better serve the community’s needs. Of the $2.9 million budget, nearly $1 million is going to the Peñitas Police Department.  

Romero later explained that the city has purchased seven new police vehicles, replacing all of the older units, and new uniforms for the Police Department.

The main sources of revenue projected for the city for 2016-17 are sales taxes, $748,000; property taxes, $775,000; and revenue collected from the municipal court, $358,000. Grants from federal and state agencies have helped cover spending for infrastructure improvements. The sales tax rate of 2 percent has remained unchanged.

“The obstacles that we currently face are anticipating the future without overextending ourselves. And as a small city that has grown very quickly and continues to grow with rapid expansion, one of the biggest obstacles we face is being ahead of that expansion in order to continue to provide the same level of protection and services to our citizens,”  said Romero.

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